Running Butser Hill – the beauty & the beast

Image-7I’ve been drawn to Butser Hill for over a quarter of a century. This iconic hill was the location of my first race when I moved to Hampshire and I never tire of return visits. Situated not far from Petersfield it towers above the A3 and offers any elevation hungry runners, walkers or riders the opportunity to test themselves.

Why ? I hear you say …. well, apart from the personal satisfaction, the views are amazing !! Portsmouth Spinnaker tower and the Isle of Wight to name two.

I arrived early enough to have the whole hill to myself. The shadows that darkened its lower slope would soon disappear as the morning sun rose and a steady trickle of “outdoors types” appeared from Queen Elizabeth Country Park on the other side of the A3.

Image-6 Butser can be climbed from a few different angles but I stuck with the main path that then forks off to the right on its way towards the trig point at the top.

Sheep and cows both graze on different slopes and at different times of the year so the grass is short wherever they have been. Naturally, our four legged friends can leave behind clues that they’ve been there, so bear this in mind.

Its worth saying that the visitors centre is currently being modernised so temporary structures are in place.

In order to gauge the height of the hill this next photo shows the view looking back from the fence line and gate that crosses between the wooded areas.

Image-9The hill gradually ramps up and then there’s the steepest section of 150 metres or so. The fact that you can only see the heads of the two walkers gives you an indication of the gradient. It’s here that your breathing and fortitude are tested, “keep on going” !!

Once through the gate its onwards and upwards for a gradual climb towards the satellite mast and then the terrain flattens once you reach the summit and the trig point.

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Image-10Statistically the elevation is around 500 feet from the car park to the trig and 400 from the lower slopes of my first photo. This is enough to earn it the “beast” status I refer to in my title. Distance wise thats about a mile and a quarter and a mile.

I could let you into a secret that there’s actually a car park just the other side of the satellite mast as well as a café but you’d be missing out on the challenge of getting there !!

My personal aim for the day was four ascents. Hill 1, ran all the way, Hill 2, ran most of the way, Hill 3, combined walking and running, Hill 4, probably a 50/50 run/walk.

Yes your calves and thighs are tested to the full on the way up and there’s an inevitable jarring of your quads as you make the descent but you really can’t replicate this kind of hill training. Strength and confidence are gained in equal measures.

On one of the descents I had to negotiate “Hill Security” ….. I asked kindly if they’d “move” over. With this area being part of the South Downs National Park all the livestock are used to visitors but these cows are big old units so I showed them lots of respect.

Image-11The countryside is such an asset and it’s often closer to us than we think. My focus today was strength work running up and down this hill but in the process you are treading a path that’s been used for hundreds of years along the South Downs Way and effectively going back in time because it would have looked exactly the same, apart from the main road !!

In summary, a beautiful location that’s well worth a drive out to.

Thanks for reading, Roger

Trail running : A tale of the trails

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As a trail running blogger, by definition, I love to write about where I’ve been. I enjoy sharing my experiences and maybe, just maybe it will motivate others to follow in my trainer footsteps on a rural run.

My most recent run was along the Meon Valley Trail (MVT) which heads north out of Wickham with a gradual incline, as befits an old railway line, on its way toward West Meon.

The trail is reasonably wide and is sheltered on either side by well established trees that form a green tunnel of foliage at this time of the year. I planned seven miles of the MVT which would take me to the point where the South Downs Way crosses and I’d use this to run up Old Winchester Hill.

I ran on a Friday morning which curiously gave my adventure an unexpected feeling of freedom, on the one hand I felt like I was skipping school (even though that was many years ago) and on the over I knew most people would be on their way to work. Starting at 7.30 a.m. also gave me a mindful experience with few distractions.

My early start was rewarded with the views of a white carpet of frost on many of the fields that back onto the MVT as well as the birdsong that comes from there being no one else interfering with their morning rituals.

To my left the Meon River winds its way towards Wickham and ultimately Titchfield and the sea. The water flows at quite a pace due to the gradual incline and it is crystal clear. On a good day you could potentially spot either a kingfisher or a vowel. An additional benefit of today’s run was the seasonal abundance of beautiful bluebells.

The wind swishes through the trees and there’s an occasional rustle of branches, probably due to a squirrel. Days like today are to be fully absorbed, who needs headphones when there’s so much to take in.

As I reach my appointment with the South Downs Way I leave the shelter of the trees and start the climb up towards Old Winchester Hill. I can immediately feel the sun on my face and the wind on my cheek as the elements welcome me to the open countryside.

The trail isn’t too muddy but I pay attention to the sections were horses have churned up the soil. As my elevation ramps up the tree roots that appear from under the hedgerows remind me that taking in the views needs to be combined with focusing on the matter at hand.

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My next reminder of Spring is the sight of lambs with their protective parents. I try my best not to startle them but I guess they’re quite familiar with ramblers and runners.

Reaching Old Winchester Hill the surrounding countryside pans out 360 degrees around you from the trig point.

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Green, yellow and brown farmers fields all contrast against the mornings blue sky. Again on a good day Red Kites and buzzards can be spotted, however it was man made fight that I observed today with two paragliders.

There’s one last drag up to the highest point in this area of the park and it kept the best until last. Yet more contrasts of colour.

friday6All that was left was to retrace my steps, take care on the downhill and carry on soaking up both the views and the peace and quiet.

Mindfulness is all about living in the moment even if that moment lasted 18 miles and just over 3 hours.

Go for a run in the country and connect with your surroundings.

Thanks for reading

Roger

Cancer Awareness & the Parkrun Spirit

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Saturdays 14 miler had just about everything that’s great about our local running community and the unseasonably warm weather complimented the warm welcome that the 5K Your Way – Move Against Cancer guys received from regulars at the Lee-On-The-Solent Parkrun 

My plan for the morning was ……….

Head over towards Titchfield village, then along the canal to the sea, follow the coast along to the parkrun, meet Sue and her Cancer Awareness group, run the 5K and then head back home.

So, first things first, who are 5K Your Way- Move Against Cancer ? Well, “in their own words”, they are a support group with a difference. A community based initiative to encourage those living with and beyond cancer, their families, friends and those working in cancer services to walk, jog, run, cheer or volunteer at a local 5k Your Way parkrun event, on the last Saturday of every month.

I first became aware of the group after seeing a twitter post by Sue Rourke and then reading the following page on the Lee parkrun website … Click on this link !!

Considering that we live in an age when small deeds are labelled as “epic” or someone that buys you a pint is a “legends” Sue, really is, inspirational.

I’d encourage everyone reading my blog to click on the link above and take the time to read about a lady who has incurable cancer and is fighting it on her own terms by encouraging others to come along. Sue, who has run 5K’s and up to a marathon is part of a national network of such groups that parkrun has embraced.

The seven miles that took me to Lee included a favourite stretch of mine, the Titchfield Canal. I met Keith from Fareham Crusaders on route and then saw a number of other running friends as I looked for Sue and her group.

112leeTo be honest I was quite surprised at the size of the 5K My Way group and as Sue lined us up for the photo that starts my blog it was clear a good 50 extra people would be participating in the parkrun.

I chatted to Sue and her passion for the project shone through.

Some ran, sum jogged, some walked but everyone followed in the parkrun tradition of encouraging each other. Becky from the group gave everyone new to the parkrun experience a briefing and then this was followed by a warm introduction from the event director.

Lee parkrun is an out and back course so there are numerous occasions on which you pass each other. Naturally this meant “well done” “thank you” and “keep going” were all terms used over and over again.

Unfortunately, on this occasion, I couldn’t hang around at the end to chat more because I still had a few miles left to run but luckily I saw both Sue and Becky as I headed back up the coast. I stopped and chatted to both ladies promising that I’ll be back in four weeks time (April 27th) when I can spend more time getting to understand their supportive work.

I recognised a whole host of Fareham Crusaders, Gosport Road Runners and other friends from our local area that all share and contribute to the parkrun spirit. As of today another fifty people joined our community and I’ve got a feeling the two groups will benefit each other.

Lets out run cancer together.

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This is my Strava map from today with the parkrun being the furthest stretch along the coast. With the breaks in my running the pace dropped off a bit but hey !! “who cares”, today was a memorable morning.

My family, just like so many others, has been affected by cancer which is why I was keen to write this blog.

Thanks for reading and please, follow those links for some truly inspirational reading.

Roger